Profiles of Transgender Courage: Tracey Africa Norman

 Tracey "Africa" Norman is an African-American transgender woman best known for her modeling career. She was born in 1951 and is originally from Newark, New Jersey. Norman described her feelings of being different for a cover story for New York Magazine saying that it went back as far as she could remember and that she just felt as though she was living in the wrong body. She had a difficult life at home, as she had a father who was battling cancer and was afraid to come out to her family. She kept her feelings a secret for quite some time, finally working up enough courage to come out after she graduated. She has described that her mother was the hardest person to tell, but was relieved when her mother reached out and gave her a big hug, admitting that she had always known.

Once she came out to her family she wanted to begin the transition process but was unsure of how to start. One day she reconnected with a former classmate who had been through the process and discovered that many other transgender women at the time resorted to taking birth control pills, without the placebo,(not recommended or advised as a method of self-treatment by any physician) to feminize their bodies. Eventually, she found a doctor who gave hormone shots "under-the-table". After a year of these hormones, she felt comfortable enough walking out the door presenting as female in public.

 Her modeling career began in 1975. She was attending a fashion show and luckily landed a spot in the Italian version of Vogue after following some models into an interview. Afterward, she signed a contract with Avon and Clairol and was the model for Clairol's Born Beautiful hair color No. 512, Dark Auburn. She picked up many modeling gigs throughout her career, and never let the secret of being transgender out. She quickly made an impact in the modeling community, picking up various high profile jobs through 1979. In 1980, she was on the set of a photo-shoot for Essence Magazine, her hairdressers assistant discovered her birth gender and outed her to the producer. At the time, being transgender in the industry was highly taboo, the producer was outraged and pulled her photos from the issue. Word spread through the modeling community and she was blacklisted, unable to pick up any work in the US. She moved to Paris and was able to sign a six-month contract with a modeling agency there. After the contract was done, she was unable to find work in any of the major cities known for modeling and fashion. She eventually moved back to New York accepting that her career as a model was over.

In December 2015, New York Magazine's digital fashion site "The Cut" wrote a biographical piece about her. Afterward, she was contacted by Clairol who announced in 2016 that Tracey would be the face of their new Nice 'n Easy Real As You Are Campaign. A representative of the company stated that they "were honored to bring back Tracey as a woman who no longer had to hide her truth". They were proud to include her as she represented the very idea that the campaign was intending to exemplify, "confidence that comes from embracing what makes you unique and using natural color to express yourself freely." That same year, Norman and Geena Rocero became the first openly transgender women to appear on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. 

Norman is also a renowned member of the ballroom dancing community, cementing her place in the Ballroom Hall of Fame in 2001. Laverne Cox stated in the cut cover story "I was just enthralled that there was this black model in the 70's who got a hair contract, who had cosmetic deals. That's a really big deal, for a black model to have contracts, and then for her to be trans is just beyond amazing".

Tracey's experiences are an example of the obstacles many transgender people face when it comes to employment. Many of us are afraid to lose our jobs and decide to hide our transitions from our employers, many who do come out have lost their jobs in the past and even still today. For those of us who are in mid-transition and looking to change jobs or unemployed and transitioning it is difficult to find work. Her bravery is in her perseverance to be successful in every endeavor she enthralled herself in, regardless of the setbacks she has faced.

Kristelle's Story: Table of Contents